A year ago, we introduced readers to Sac Brew Bike, a new locally owned business with plenty of optimism – and lots of questions.
The biggest question was whether something like this, popular in places such as Portland and London, could turn into a viable business in California’s capital.
The 15-passenger, pedal-powered vehicle would roam the grid, stop at designated beer pubs for some suds and fun, then head to the next destination. Customers could pay for individual seats or book the entire bike for family, friends, office team-building, bachelor and bachelorette gigs and more.
I was one of those who wondered if this venture, owned by the husband-and-wife team of Chris and Sarah Ferren-Cirino, would be around a year after launch. Leave it to Beer Run to wonder if a real-life beer-run business would actually pan out.
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Here’s your answer. There is no longer one 15-passenger bike. There are three, each costing $50,000 or more. And those bikes are often booked six weeks out for weekend and prime-time tours. Chris and Sarah, who left jobs in the insurance industry to take a chance on this, have hired a manager and seven part-time employees to make Sac Brew Bike run smoothly. They recently added a Reno Beer Bike recently as well.
This unlikely enterprise is a big success and has added to the ever-evolving personality and charm of the urban grid. Riding my bike through midtown, I’ve often happened upon one of these 1,700-pound bikes. It’s usually filled with customers who are laughing, smiling and – inexplicably – almost always singing along to Journey.
The pubs are happy, too. Sac Brew Bike delivers an enthusiastic clientele eager to try new beers, have a good time and spend some money.
“Chris and his crew are wonderful people,” said Glynn Phillips, owner of Rubicon Brewing on Capitol Avenue. “They are bringing us a lot of new customers.” Other stops include Der Biergarten, Kupros, LowBrau, Tank House, Federalist, University of Beer, Alley Katz and the Golden Bear.
The typical stop is 45 minutes, and each bike usually makes three stops during a two-hour ride. The bikes operate every day and rent out at $375 for Friday and Saturday excursions (or $25 per seat) and $300 ($20 per seat) other nights. Longer tours are also available, as are customized itineraries.
If you’re looking to book a specific date, it’s best to call early. The busiest nights are nearly impossible to get unless you reserve six weeks in advance. Chris said he’s already taking reservations for September.
Speaking of busy, the entrepreneurial couple is poised to open a midtown taproom that will serve as the starting point for their bike excursions. The 2,400-square-foot building on 19th Street – the site of a former art gallery – also will welcome customers who are not part of the beer bike crowd.
While Sac Brew Bike has received a conditional use permit, the company still has to navigate plenty of red tape before it can start serving beer inside. Chris says the taproom likely will have six beers on draft, all from local breweries. With an anticipated July opening, the taproom should offer a fresh vibe and add to the diversity of the local beer scene.
The ability to expand their business arrived much earlier than expected, the couple said.
“It has been much better than I thought it would be,” Chris said. “I knew this could be something, otherwise I wouldn’t have left a good career, a good-paying job with benefits in insurance. I jumped in with both feet at first. I didn’t know how quickly we were going to get there. I thought it might take three years to be where we are after one year.”
Chris and his wife have also been image-conscious and community-minded. They never wanted this thing to be a wild and crazy party bus. It’s about having a good time – and fitting in with the bustling but far-from-rowdy midtown scene.
“We tell people before all of our tours, ‘Hey guys, we’re in the community. We have something really cool, something fun and innovative in the city and a lot of people have supported us. So just be respectful of that and be careful when you’re drinking,’” Chris said. “We don’t want to turn it into something where people are just getting wasted on the bike.”
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Chris is lukewarm about SB 530, the bill that would allow passengers on these kinds of bikes to drink as they ride, sort of like they do in limos. “We support it, but we have some mixed feelings,” he said. “We have customers who have expressed interest in having beer in the bikes, and that’s understandable. But it will lead to more supervision, let’s say.”